For many years, people concerned about air quality in the United States have been worried that the low-hanging fruit was gone, with a lot of work left to be done.
Rules governing the emissions of power plants and factories were ways to keep a lot of garbage out of the air by concentrating on a few key sources. But, despite rules and increased mileage standards, pollution from automobiles continues to rise.
Utah public officials meanwhile, eager to maintain good relations with fossil fuel extractors and processors, claim that there is little more that can be done to limit pollution caused by wells, refineries and mines. They turn the blame for continued foul air back on individuals and their cars.
Not everyone buys the reassurances about the refineries, or the shift of the blame to autos. But, regardless of who draws the pie chart, the fact is that auto traffic is a big contributor to our bad air woes, and anything that would make those cars less dirty would help a lot. Especially in Utah.
That's why Utahns, leaders and ordinary people, should support a proposed new set of federal air quality standards that the Environmental Protection Agency calls Tier III.
Full implementation of the new standards for both motor fuels and automobiles sold in the United States, combined with fuel efficiency standards already negotiated by President Obama and the auto industry, could mean an impressive 80 percent reduction in auto-based air pollutants by the year 2030.
The new set of rules would treat the car and the fuel as a single system. New cars would have to have more efficient pollution control systems, specifically a kind of catalytic converter that starts cleaning an auto's exhaust immediately upon starting, not after it has a few minutes to warm up. And gasoline sold in the U.S. would have to meet standards already successfully imposed in California, Japan and the European Union, reducing such substances as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide by as much as 30 percent.
The auto industry, defending its public image, is behind the proposed standards. Carmakers say meeting the requirements would add maybe $150 to the price of a new car.
Oil refiners are opposed, raising the threat of gasoline that costs 9 cents more a gallon. EPA estimates are barely a penny a gallon. But even if the oil companies are right, Tier III would make a huge difference in Utah's air that would be well worth the cost.
The comment period for the proposed rules closes July 1. Utahns should support it.